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In Memoriam - Brian Brown

Brian Brown sadly passed away on May 11, 2015. We knew Brian from our time living in Barga from 2010 - 2011, and our many subsequent visits. Barga will miss him, as will we.

My wife Kristin and I first met Brian in one of our early exploratory walks through Barga over five years ago. At the time, we were staying at Bill & Cynthia McKibbon’s Casa Rosa on Via Aquadotto, braving the Garfagnana winter with a smoking fireplace and two portable heaters that we nick-named Ned and Nancy in a mittened state of sub-zero living. Back then, navigating the slightly meandering alleys from Porta Macchiaia, acknowledging the dozens of cats and the odd dog, one stumbled easily into Aristo’s, the local bar in the center of town. Brian was usually outside enjoying a drink, reeling off line after line of grunts and sounds to passers-by in his thick Northern English accent.

While our first meeting resulted in only stilted conversation, when we next met Brian, it was with his dog Mac, an intimidating black sack of muscle and teeth. “She’s a right champion! A bull terrier!” Brian would be sure to clarify for you, before petting him like a tiger-tamer.

In fact, we had been negotiating with a dog-breeder in the nearby town of Fornaci to purchase a dog of our own. We had observed a small little Jack Russell at the Barga Benedizione degli Animali, or Blessing of the Animals, a kind of car-wash baptism, where animals march with their owners under a terrace while a priest dispenses holy water from above. Kristin had fallen in love with the puppy, who seemed to channel a zen presence amongst all the bigger dogs, cats, turtles, rabbits, and whatever else kids kept in their homes. The only problem was that neither of us spoke Italian, and we had no way of getting down to Fornaci to finish the deal with the breeder. Somehow we ended up talking to Brian (likely at Riccardo’s Osteria or Aristo’s), and Brian, in an act of militaristic philanthropy suggested, “Look, get in me car, I’ll drive ye down, and we’ll get’er done.”

The breeder, or as we called him, ‘The Judge’ due to his deliberate demeanor and his day-job as an actual judge, was a play-by-the-rules stickler for detail, and we spent over an hour filling in details on a form that most breeders would simply resolve with a handshake. After an obscene amount of back and forth, Brian raised himself up, stuck out his chest, and thundered, “What’s the problem? This guy and girl just want the damn dog!” The judge dropped his pen, and quickly handed over the puppy, but not before Brian managed one of his favorite expressions, turning to us and exclaiming: “This guy’s nothing but a fart in a bottle!”

When someone hands you a puppy for the first time, and you hold onto it and realize through some magical act of transfer you have signed on to be its owner, there is a good chance you may be filled with equal parts exuberance and uncertainty. The latter in this case was further underscored by the presence of Mac, who was waiting for us in the car, taking up the entire back-seat like some sort of animal that had jail-broken from a safari. Brian motioned for me to put our new dog down, and Mac, five times the size, snorted, tensed his neck-log, and gently nuzzled our little puppy into the back seat.

From that moment, borne of happenstance and generosity, Mac was our dog’s protectorate. He would walk beside her, confronting other dogs with a guttural growl, indicating you had better watch out, not unlike Brian had done with us and the Judge.

We spent more time with Brian, visited him at his house, shared drinks, meals with him, and generally lived our Barga life in part with him and the other unique members of the town. Brian generously began to offer his car for us to use on our many day-trips. As his vision deteriorated, he suggested we buy his car from him at a ‘bargain’ price that was more or less commensurate with the car’s actual value.

As the years progressed we moved away to Firenze, but always we could count on Brian to channel our Barga life when we came back and visited. One of our last times we saw Brian was in Malta of all places. We all happened to be there at the same time, and we agreed we had to meet up, given the unlikely chance of all being in some other country together. We arranged to rendezvous in one of Malta’s small towns, and as we pulled up to a brightly tanned Brian, standing of all places beside an Italian café, he waved, scowled and grinned at the same time, and hopped in our back-seat, to take one more ride.

Today, we still drive Brian’s A-Class Benz (which we did end up buying from him). Beatrice, our little Jack Russell, who sat with Mac when she was three months old in the back-seat, she is sitting now beside me, all grown up. Both Mac and Brian have now moved on, but Bea, judging from her demeanor around fellow dogs, still believes that Mac is protecting her, while Brian’s Benz still growls with a guttural brogue, and I can still sense him there, messing with the gear-shift, ribbing passers-by out the window, scowling and laughing all at once.

Brian Brown

The pups

Today we saw our last pup out the door. First it was Ernesto (now Max), to the Melli’s. Then it was Zeus to Elizabetta’s friend Vincent, the tattooed bronzed hairdresser. Finally today, after much deliberation and introspection, Peppa was driven away , to a new life in Switzerland with the Mentha’s.

Each pup had his or her own personality. Zeus, the wacky instigator, a loveable explosion of energy; Ernesto, the quiet, slightly timid brother, with his furrowed brow, and back-of-the-class way of slinking behind, and Peppa, the smartest of them all, who, when everyone else left became our temporary focal point of our ‘what-if’ family.. What if we had two dogs? What if we had two dogs and two kids? What if we traveled on a plane with two dogs, two kids and two crazy parents?

Ultimately, we are the same family we were three months ago, but we are not. We are four again, but our +3 are out there somewhere, up the road..

puppies-last-day

Ernesto (and Peppa) and the Mellis

Ernesto and the Mellis

Zeus and Vincent

Zeus and Vincent

Peppa and the Menthas

Peppa and the Menthas

ultimately

The pups!

Fattoria di Corazzano

Every week in Florence, the Orr family, being a healthy bell-weather of nutrition, receives a basket of organic vegetables, hand-delivered from the Fattoria di Corazzano, a farm about an hour away from Florence. It’s a weekly thing – you pay 15 Euro, and you get you a basket of stuff that you must cook within days to avoid feeling bad for wasting vegetables. It’s delivered by an excitable elfish Frenchman, Adrian, who gives a short, happy speech on each vegetable. “These cipolli (onions), they were harvested this morning, the fagioli, you can eat crudo (raw) ”. He is a perfect emblem of the organic farm – young, earnest, without any cynical pesticides.

Given that we had never been to the actual Fattoria, and with the annual Vendemmia, or grape harvest, going on, we decided to make a day-trip of it. The two possible routes advocated by Google Maps, resulted in a judgment call. Kristin wanted efficiency (55 minutes on the autostrada), I wanted winding back-roads (1 hour 8 minutes). Kristin, being the perfect wife, relented, and we took back roads, resulting in rolling hills, idyllic scenery, and, within 30 minutes, a sick Kristin, and moaning Jasper (due to several hairpin turns, and back-country Tuscan roads being no wider than half an American SUV).

At the farm title= Touching a little bit of Italy

One driver-switch, and 20 minutes later, we arrived at the Fattoria. We had anticipated arriving in the early morning for the Vendemmia, but decided to play it cool, and arrive in the afternoon, to ‘work’ a little bit. A long road bisected the fields as we drove up, creating two plush agricultural carpets. A botega, or farm store, sat adjacent to a recently restored farmhouse, with hand-painted cartoonish signs providing requisite organic authenticity. We were greeted by Carlo, the owner of the farm, wearing a grape-stained white t-shirt, and an old hat that covered a spectacled and work-weary face. “Buongiorno, hello”. I did my usual introductory mumble-Italian, stopping on a dime when I drove into the inevitable unknown verb or noun. “Would you like to speak in English?”, Carlo asked in perfect English.

Carlo, it turned out, literally bought the farm four years ago, after giving up his previous job - selling yachts… in Monaco. Yes, he confirmed, he had exchanged living in the world’s most glamorous city-state, selling the most glamorous kind of boats, for running an organic farm. The romance was bubbling over as he dug his hand into a week old giant vat of fermenting grapes, congealing and stewing in the unmistakable scent of unbridled nature. “It was a complicated decision,” he reasoned. “Part of it, was I wanted to grow my children somewhere else.” Even his sentiment was farmified, which made me like him even more.

img_4051

Carlo showed us around, while Kristin showed Jasper stacks of organic baby-food (also produced by the farm) that he would some very near day, consume. We asked Carlo about running the farm, and he replied with an air of inevitability. “Yes, it’s very hard. We’re not quite there yet.” ‘There’ to him, meant selling 1000 boxes of vegetables a week, now he was doing 350. It had proved tough, so tough that the four years of hard labor seemed buried in his sentences. He spoke about his troubles very candidly, with the air of someone who had nothing to hide, refreshingly clear of spin, exaggeration, or preservatives.

After making impulse purchases of organic almond cookies, and fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk (which amazingly tastes like healthy cream), we walked over to the vineyard, where the harvest was still going on. With the sun fading in the late afternoon, the air was perfect – cool, and light. I joined in with the harvest, taking off my dress-shirt so as to avoid excessive purpling. Harvesting grapes is really pretty simple, a quick cut off the main branch with wire-cutters, scrape out the ‘muffa’, or moldy grapes (these being organic, about 25% of each bunch were scrapers, while the leaves had yellowed and browned in their organic state), and chuck them into a nearby basket. There were about 15 other volunteers, soldiered up and down the lanes. Some young girls were there, who were ‘woofers’, or volunteers who hop from organic farm to organic farm all over the world. Kristin showed Jasper his first bunch of grapes, fresh off a vine, while Bea hung out at my feet as it rained grapes from above. Jasper even tried to put a small grape in his mouth, which he immediately and thoughtfully spit out.

Leaving the vineyard, Carlo gave us a wave, while we considered our next move. This being 6:30 pm, an awkward time for dinner, given that all restaurants in Italy open at the convenient time of 7:30 pm, we killed some time watching five little kids playing soccer, or rather we watched one star kid dominate four other kids. Jasper temporarily stopped his twisting and turning (he constantly wants to move), to watch the kids with a bit of five-month old awe. I wondered which kid he would be. Would he have a Euro haircut, would he be comfortable taking off his shirt, would he be a fast runner? When you’re a new parent, you start thinking about these things.

Lui piace Happy Two guys at the farm

Finally, at 7:30 pm, we walked up to the restaurant, and were immediately told, ‘Mi dispiace, siamo completo’, which means basically, ‘we are full, sorry, so sorry, oh god, you have a baby, and you’re about to make me feel even more guilty, but there is nothing I can do, I am sorry, yes, even though you just asked if you could eat very quickly, and you were waiting for 45 minutes and having a baby is tough, and oh, wow, you even have a dog, and even though I have every table free, there is simply nothing I can do, and yes, I realize that that is absurd because most Italians arrive late for everything and those tables would likely be empty for at least an hour, but again, there is simply nothing I can do.’

One of the good things about parenting, is that you pretty much always have to keep your cool around your baby, so even when confronted with ‘challenging’ situation, you have to act like it’s not the end of the world. Sure enough, we actually found a well-reviewed restaurant 10 Google-Map minutes away, which turned into 25 minutes in the dark, through winding roads, and the restaurant at the end of a long narrow tree-lined dirt road, which at this hour, seemed like the end of the earth.

The restaurant was actually pretty good. Tartufo was the specialty (this being San Miniato, the white-truffle capital of Tuscany). We momentarily confused our waiter with a request to store our fresh farm milk in the fridge - Kristin pointed out later that he probably thought it was breast milk. The branzino (sea-bass) had a strip of pancetta that was easily in my top five gourmet bacon experiences of all time. Freshly fed, tiramisued, and café’d, we drove the hour back home on the wonderfully straight autostrada, Japer asleep in the back, the Italian countryside fading into silhouettes. We arrived home shortly before midnight, realized we had left the fresh milk at the restaurant’s fridge, and then closed our eyes and let it go. With no preservatives, it probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a day.

jasper-grapes-video dave-milk

Zuccotti Park

Sitting on a set of stairs at Zuccotti Park, one block away from the WTC, 9:15 am, on Sept. 11, 2013. It’s been a while since I was in New York on Sept. 11. Twelve years ago I was here, running and weaving my way up to midtown. Two years ago, on the 10th anniversary, that day felt both far away, and close. Today though, it feels like a lifetime, like the time between 10 years and 12 years got stretched. Life events probably do that to you. Getting married. Having a son. I’ve been lucky.

Sept. 11 was of course, a day where the already fine line between life and death shrunk. Today, on these steps, with that day firmly in the rearview mirror, I’m impressed with the number of people either remembering, or trying to understand. A woman gives a faux-interview to a girl who just moved here, who wants to know more about the vibe, “New Yorkers, they always bounce back.” A Japanese girl carries a tripod as big as her, doing amateur documentaries.

Tourists walk by with neutral expressions, as if overt expressions are considered excessive. A woman calls over to a cop, “Officer, I think that girl over there is sick.” The cop reassures her, “No, maam, they’re reading the names, she’s just a little sad.” A man in a fireman’s uniform, slim and aged, sits with a pained expression. He exhales softly, eyebrows tight, locked in a faraway memory. Amongst the shadows of all of these grandiose buildings, the real reflecting pool is here, in the collective memories that float throughout.

Summer at the Fattoria

The grassy green vineyards running through the farm bake in the Tuscan sun. The grapes are little bulbs, lazily hanging down their own stems like sleeping monkeys. The cicadas fill the silence with a constant hum, but nothing else moves. Only church bells in the distance, and a breeze that you wish would stay.

Sweat drips down the page, smearing ink.

Excitement and movement run counter to the Mediterranean afternoon spirit of repose. At midday, when all other beings are asleep, happiness is found mostly in your imagination. In your mind you are rushing headlong through the vineyard leaves, feeling them rip through you, feeling the sweat come down. All this as you lie on your back, eyes closed, letting the flies buzz and the cicadas hum, willing the breeze to stir once more.

- July 27, Fattoria Di Bagnolo, Impruneta

blog-posting-fattoria-summer

Tuscan Adventure Series - The Merse River

Every week David, Kristin, Jasper & Bea attempt to find and explore a new spot in Tuscany.

The Merse River in Tuscany is a gleaming green, twisting time-warp. To get to it, you drive south past Siena, past Brenna until you get to a mile-high amphitheater of trees where the river is hiding. It’s a great alternative to the seaside, which is where currently thousands of Italians caravan en masse to set themselves at 30 degrees Celsius and bake themselves until they are the color of a Nespresso pod.

The river has a Tuscan jungle feel. When you float down it, you can see receding reeds, rocky outcrops. In war-time it would be a perfect ambush site. When you’re a new parent (which is not unlike war time), it is a perfect place to make peace with yourself.

At the river, we met our friends Bill and Crystal and their baby Harry, Jasper’s partner in crime in his current role of ‘trying to live out life like a two month old’. Camping at a river outcrop, Crystal stayed behind with Harry & Jasper, while Kristin, Bill and I decided to attempt to swim downstream.

The Merse

The Merse

Kristin & Jasper

Kristin & Jasper

Jasper

Squinting

Mother & son

Contemplation

Walking five minutes up a trail alongside the river, we entered the river along some rocks. I have a bum ankle from attempting to run with those idiotic barefoot running shoes, and lurched forward on uneven footing, channeling a drunk ballerina. Bill, our leader, navigated the river by assessing the hardest routes possible and then basically choosing as if he was a retired Navy Seal. The choice of a natural staircase of rocks leading down to a serene pool, or a Class IV rapid-system, always seemed to result in rapids.

After getting through the King’s Chair, a gushing whirlpool of froth where you can ‘sit like a king’ and try to not get shot like a canon-ball, and the Demon Chute, a waterfall emptying into a natural eddy, where the water is more cold and more white, we encountered the Ledge of Zen, a submerged tree-branch, where you must balance yourself while attempting one of those zen poses that no one knows quite how to do. The resulting look is 10% serenity, 90% muscled constipation, and you inevitably end up falling off the branch.

After Kristin, with her yoga-master background, was confirmed as the superior zen-master, we navigated the remainder of the river back to our boys. Stomach-endowed speedo men lounged at an outcrop, serving as our lighthouse to swim for. The entire length of river that had taken us five minutes to walk up, took us much longer proportionally to swim down, suggesting some sort of wormhole had gotten us half way through.

Back at camp, the boys were in good form. Crystal held Jasper soothing him (he had just woken up), while Harry was holding court in his stroller. I carried Jasper over to stare at some tree leaves to calm him down. For Kristin, it was the first time she was able to be apart from Jasper in the last two months. We are all blessed now with managing and maintaining a very serious task – raising kids. So it was a dream for 30 minutes to go through our own wormhole and become kids again ourselves, navigating an obstacle course of our own choosing.

The babies started into a high-pitched spurt of grunts and crying-fits. “Look, they’re talking to each other like dolphins!”, Bill exclaimed. I nodded in agreement, while Jasper, sitting in his king’s chair, did a zen-look of his own.

John Sullivan - in memory

John Sullivan, Kristin’s dad, died a year ago today.

John had a sensitive soul, kept intact by a larger than life exterior persona. The John you knew after five minutes was an intimidating, playful, imposing, charismatic, twinkling star of a man, cracking jokes, maneuvering his over 6 foot frame through space so as to alter gravity, to affect his physical will on the earth. If you were lucky you got a finger-cracking handshake. Your hand would disappear inside his, eaten alive.

But if John knew you, you’d feel the buried sensitivity, running at a subterranean level like an emotional subway, serving all his actions, feelings, and thoughts. He would joke about Swedish twins, crashing boats, bar-fights, but would do so in a way as to linger lovingly over memories, and then inhabit them whole. His ability to re-live an entire conversation verbatim meant that every visit with him was a complete off-Broadway re-enactment of a scene from his life.

He could remember the smallest of details - faces, numbers, addresses, like he was reading them off a page. He had a playful, mischievous side, that disarmed you, the way the best politicians do. He made you vie for his affection, and when you got his approval it was a validation of sorts. When you saw him angry, laced with feeling, you appreciated his warm side even more. You would do anything to keep him there.

We will remember his blue, friendly eyes, his presence, his smile, and the warmth it exuded. John, you are missed, but we know you are still running the show your way, up there.

Father and daughter

Euro Cup in Lucignano

Having watched most of the Euro Cup 2012 in either far-away countries (Malta), or big Italian cities (Firenze) Kristin and I opted for small-town Italia for the final. Lucignano. This small town, about an hour outside of Firenze, is the new home-town of our good friends Jory & Tamara. Kristin and I drove down to cheer Italia on, and bask in the country-wide party that was sure to unfold, at least in the minds of most Italians.

As we found our seat with the pre-game show crawling forward, a man immediately stood up and high-fived Jory. Everyone in town knows Jory. He’s lived in the town off and on for six years, and spent the last summer painting frescoes at a local restaurant. Jory’s high-fiver was sitting beside a grey-haired man with a mangy beard, an Italian flag affixed to his back like a beacon.

Ever since Italy started winning, the bar we were watching the game at had been serving the same meal every evening. Jory explained, “Crostini, pate, porchetta, basically they throw together a meal, but everyone only ever eats the prosciutto. Now we’re stuck with it though, they won’t change up the meal for fear they’ll wreck the winning spree”. There was a subtle change tonight though – more of the prosciutto. Jory shook his head. “If Italy loses, this bar is going to get blamed for sure.”

Beginning of the end

Beginning of the end

Tense

Tense

Good luck charms

Good luck charms

Night falls

Night falls

The camera panned to Buffon, the Italian goal-tender, drawing immediate applause. The opening whistle blew, and bottles of wine were laid down like bricks.

The game was shown on a projected screen, which, 15 minutes in, was being tossed around by the wind. Leaves started to fall from a nearby tree projecting shadows here and there, and for a second, the screen shuddered. Spain scored a minute later, and the crowd, already tense, got even tenser. Jory wanted them to start being rowdy, but with every passing minute, only a couple of spirited yells were heard.

Cassano had a great chance, shooting between the legs of the defender, but it was easily stopped by Casillas, the Spanish goal-tender . Spain scored again, and this time the jubilant Italian spirit was checked. Then, the solution: the camera panned to Mario Monti, the Italian prime-minister, sitting in his box – finally the Italians come to life, booing and yelling at the screen.

The outcome was more or less decided by half-time, as most tense faces became gradually indifferent. Italy’s country-wide party was put on ice, and as the Spaniards celebrated, the brooms came out at the bar. Balotelli cried on screen, while the food, even the proscuitto, made its way to the garbage, forgotten.

The verdict

The verdict

Consoling

Consoling

Sleeping

Sleeping

Dreaming for tomorrow

Dreaming for tomorrow

The Villa

- Written during our last visit to Villa Sognare, Ed & Gary’s villa in Barga, Italy, the place where Kristin and I had our wedding reception. Villa Sognare will be sold in a no-reserve auction on June 20. The videos below are from Williams & Williams, the company who will be running the auction.
____________________________________________

Today was our last day at Ed & Gary’s villa – it is sad when you’re in a beautiful place that you know will only last so long, so you try to take in as much as possible before it disappears, or rather changes.

We met Gary first, a year and a half ago. Kristin and I were looking for places to have our wedding reception, and had heard about the villa from one of our friends in Barga. We knocked on the large, wooden front door, not knowing if anyone was home. Gary answered, and despite not knowing us, welcomed us in. We entered as strangers, and we left, as friends.

We returned dozens of times, and every time Ed, whom we met soon after, and Gary welcomed us in warmly. Ed, who has a brilliant smile belying a deep intensity, Gary who speaks with his entire body, passionate and calm all at once, they created the villa as it exists today.

Villa Sognare is that secret bit of solitude that happens to exist in the same universe as you. The feeling that you get the first time you walk in the entrance, with its long red carpet corridor, its imperial red walls, its terraced gardens, is one of awe for its sheer beauty, and admiration for what Ed & Gary have done, restoring it over a period of over 10 years.

Villa Sognare Auction Ed & Gary talk about the villa

When we walked in on our wedding day, I remember the band playing to our left by the limonaia, and raising a triumphant fist to them. It was strange, at that moment, I felt more comfortable acknowledging the band than our family and friends, maybe because the band resembled my Italian reality, while right next to them were our friends and family from back home, who had all entered our Italian life all at once.

People clapping, us walking, not really knowing what to do so walking some more, floating really, to the food, hugging, back-slapping, picking up a couple of oysters and slurping them down, using the moment of doing something to really look around and gaze at the party around us. And from looking down that oyster shell, we saw our lives, reflected.

I remember the sign that Marcial had made, displaying a cross-roads of every major city we had visited, standing triumphantly above the dinner tables on the terrace. I remember all the Indian fabrics that Kristin had had made in Jaipur, perfectly placed at each table by Ed & Gary after being expertly ironed by Jim.

I remember Bjorn playing the piano beautifully, conjuring up memories of ad-hoc recitals in the village. I remember Kevin standing firm throughout, steady as a rock. I remember seeing NYC, California, Boston, Italy, France, Waterloo, Stratford, Toronto, standing all together.

I remember Kristin, how beautiful she looked in her gown and earrings, with her hair up, then down. How calm she was when she walked down the aisle, hamming it up for the video-stream. I remember all my nervousness disappearing when she winked at me, and I realized then how nervous I was, and how much she wasn’t. I remember walking with her through town, at last as a true couple, and her hair, and her smile. She just seemed to float and I followed her and she followed me.

I remember Guido and Gabrielle from the band standing on the villa balcony introducing us from a crumpled piece of scrap paper we had put together, and the cyclone of fabrics waved spontaneously as we were introduced, clapping, yelling, so much noise, propelling us forward into a vortex of joy. And all the while Ed and Gary smiling broadly in the corner, proud and happy.

reception-hand-in-hand waving-the-flags

The wedding wasn’t conceived in a day, week or month. It was the perfect result of all the minutes and seconds we have lived, Kristin and I. And the villa on that day was a way-station, inevitable, set in motion long ago when Ed & Gary bought it, and Bill & Cynthia bought Casa Rosa, and I moved to NYC from Canada, and Kristin moved to NYC from California, and Lehman went bankrupt, and so on, and so on, and sometimes it makes sense to just close your eyes and jump.

Jumping was walking into the villa on that day, it was leaving NYC, it was meeting Bill & Cynthia at the Taj and following the trail of their lives to Barga, it was asking Kristin to marry me. It is a feeling of free-fall - your life is in the hands of others for a moment, and it is scary, it is new, and you co-exist, until gradually you stabilize and come to rest, or you just get used to free-falling.

When I look out at Barga now from the villa, each individual tree is a perfect painting, while miles away they blend into a single green. The villa will always be that single tree in our memory. It will remain, treasured and raw, for us to bring into our minds now and then, to replay our walks, our procession, our special day. It will always be that way for us, and for the people who attended. The villa will be sold, but the memories will remain, scattered throughout the globe like ashes, in our minds.

- May, 2012

Thoughts on 9/11 - Ten Years Later

New York City was my home for 8 years. I started my career there, I started my real life there, and on 9/11, real life came in.

In August, 2011, I started work on the 38th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. I consulted for Lehman Brothers with my friend, and roommate Peter. The towers, even on the inside, were enormous. During the first month, someone asked which floor we worked on and I remember our friend Michael arcing his hand up, “We work.. up there…”, presenting the tower as an astronaut would present his spaceship.

I remember waking up on the morning of 9/11, to leaflets of paper floating from the sky, and concerned passers-by craning their necks upward as I had done every day since I had moved to NYC, absorbing each tall skyscraper.

I wasn’t at work when the planes hit – being a perennially late sleeper, I had walked out of my downtown apartment, which was blocks away from the Trade Center, at around 9:10 am, minutes after both planes had hit. People were video-taping the towers, people were pointing, but of course, no one could possibly know what was coming next.

When the first tower fell, I was blocks away at City Hall. I was caught in the crowd, swept up like a heart-beat into the lower cavity of Manhattan, and then, a pouring, a spilling, a massive throat clearing of people, like a flock of birds taking flight all at once, out of downtown.

I ran. I ran swearing expletives, the same word over and over. I ran until the crowd slowed down, and people started to crowd around radios in electronic shops, trying to get some news, and make sense of it all.

I remember my mom’s voice-mail to me on my cell-phone, terrified.

I remember my mind going numb when someone told me people were jumping.

I remember Peter being in the front lobby of Tower 1 when the first plane hit, and then having the wherewithal to run back to our apartment to find our passports to check us out of NYC.

I remember thinking that life would never be the same again.

For the first couple of years afterward, I had a perverse sense of wanting to have been in those towers, or at the very least, to have experienced what my colleagues at Lehman experienced. Almost everyone made it out from the 38th floor. I only watched from below. I felt like a fraud, like I should have at the very least, been up there with them.

Now, ten years later that feeling of wanting to experience everything, every single emotion a human can process, has run its course. I am content with the love of my wife, my dog, my family, my friends. I don’t need anything more. I don’t want anything more.

People are always curious to know what it felt like to have been through 9/11, and it’s hard to articulate because every year it changes as you change. I don’t think about it for months, even years, and then I’m right back. One day it drives you, it fuels your passion, and another day it makes you stop and cry for your family, miles away.

It strips away everything fake and fluff and staged, and in its place is raw human spirit – raging, withering, laughing, trembling. The only thing I can compare it to is the vulnerability of giving and opening yourself to one person. I am married to a beautiful, strong, and kind woman, and she generates in me the same kind of emotion that 9/11 does.

On that day, on that run/zombie-walk out of downtown, I had no idea where I was going, or what I was going to do. But I had a guy, a stranger, beside me who also didn’t know, and beside him there was another guy and we were just a bunch of people, walking to the best place we knew, and we were together.